CRUSH, a solo show from Rebecca Leveille on view at Site:Brooklyn in partnership with R. Michelson Galleries, plays with the word’s multiple meanings. Admiration and devastation bloom in bright colors brushed into graceful china patterns and iconographic imagery. A smile, an embrace belie inner turmoil and social ills. Memories, good and bad, waver and drift throughout the show, and personal relationships mingle together with affinities developed from afar.
Making a sharp left from the entrance into the gallery’s main space, viewers will find a group of twelve 12 x 12 inch paintings inspired by Instagram. People whom Leveille follows, gilded in gold in the fashion of religious icons, intertwine with people who are important parts of her personal life. Said Leveille:
In a show about the concepts of crush, I HAD to address the instagram obsessions. . . I have conflicting feelings about my attachments to the people I follow on Insta. In most cases they are people I started following out of respect for them and their work. When that respect turns into a “like” or a positive comment from them, we are affected. Should we be? Likely, NO! Are we? ABSOLUTELY. These people, whomever they are, in each of our feeds start competing for attention in our awareness with our friends and family. That’s why I’ve gilded all of them like icons—but made it a sort of streaked and imperfect gilding, flawed and a little grubby, not as a reflection of them but as a critique of myself.
Also featured in this group of twelve is a blue and white china plate, gilded in gold as well, bearing the Blue Willow motif that is repeated throughout CRUSH. This piece of china is a significant item from Leveille’s childhood, a part of a set that she described as her family’s “only ‘matching’ anything” that was later destroyed during a fight between her mother and the emotionally abusive man her mother later married. “In the development of the paintings for the show,” Leveille explained, “I started to recon with the dual feelings of love loss, imagination, and sorrow within this pattern.”
Directly across the room, the Blue Willow pattern forms the backdrop to an embrace between Princess Leia and Han Solo. The 20 x 20 inch piece entitled You Don’t Like Nice Men—a quote from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back—references young Leveille’s “massive crush” on Harrison Ford, as well as her lack of understanding of what a nice man was as she watched her step-father’s abuse and imbibed pop culture.
Sharing a corner with You Don’t Like Nice Men is my favorite piece in CRUSH, a 40 x 60 inch painting entitled For Your Eyes Only (We Are Happy To Serve You). In the piece, a depiction of Carole Bouquet as Bond girl Melina Havelock floats above elegant scenery created by the Blue Willow pattern. Wearing only a white T-shirt, black panties, and red heels arched back toward her head, the figure holds Havelock’s trademark crossbow atop which are perched two small birds, giving the figure a cherub-like quality. At the bottom, where subtitles might appear on a movie screen, are written in pseudo-Greek lettering the words, “We are happy to serve you”—which New Yorkers have grown accustomed to reading on the blue coffee cups given to go. Speaking about the painting, Leveille noted:
We are Happy to Serve You is directly addressing my love and hate of sexist stereotypes and the subtext and servile qualities that are the underpinnings of them embodied in the NYC coffee cup text/slogan. I was in love with Carole Bouquet’s insane beauty when I saw For Your Eyes Only in the 80s. I loved Bond girls in general. I re-watched this and other Bond movies recently and was absolutely physically sick with the sexism—both overt and passive—and yet I could STILL identify with the affection I had. Such a weird feeling. . . . These pop culture things taught women that it’s acceptable to be treated without worth—to be trash talked, to be date raped. Dealing with this imagery, on my own terms, addressing my own conflict with it is a way to own it and give it back with a sort of “Fuck me?” “Fuck . . .YOU” catharsis.”
Addressing these raw and personal emotions in the context of our larger, present-day political climate is the painting You Can Do Anything. Playing with the phrase in a way similar to the show’s title, the work features Leveille herself with her daughter on the brink of adolescence—the two positioned in a Madonna and child pose nude. Over the figures, in yellow and gold, is painted the now infamous quote from our current president which ends “When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. You can grab them by the pussy. You can do anything”. Leveille, who was herself date raped at fifteen, explained the feelings behind the piece:
It’s about mothers and daughters in the face of these words and what they meant and how carved into and bare they made me feel as a mother. . . . That THESE thoughts, THESE words, and the vile disrespect they represent to ALL women could be given, not just a ‘pass’, but a passive approval is sickening. . . . It was representative of a pattern of forcing himself on women and liking it, getting off on it. . . . That the vile person who said these words, believes in this behavior, became the president, shakes me to the core. It condones rape culture. . . . The idea that you can do anything to a woman was made plain in the most damaging terms. Clearly you CAN and still be president. So how do we tell our daughters they “can do anything” in life? Fucking crushing.
A former illustrator with a desire to break free of contracted work that required her to create within the confines of others’ memories and mythologies, Leveille described her current vocation:
What I now get to do is EXPLORE and reexamine the weight and the influence of pop culture—and in some cases through the lense of a creator of pop culture images. I examine memory and modern mythologies, the sexist stereotypes that I’ve both deep love for and deep painful conflict with. I’m integrating the patterns that mean childhood and approval for me, and I’m trying to press it all, the storm of imagery and emotion into the work.
A Solo Exhibition of New Works by Rebecca Leveille
March 24th-April 23rd (Extended until April 30th, 2017)
Artist Reception March 31st 6-9 PM
In Collaboration with R.Michelson Galleries
165 7th Street Brooklyn NY 11215
Writing by Kate Menard
Photographs by Gabriel Cosma